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Aldrin Gersalia Shows You How to Make a Space Silhouette in Pixlr Express

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We’re big fans of what we like to call space silhouettes. These types of photos use the space overlays in Pixlr Express to create some very beautiful images. We’re going to spotlight some of the best space silhouettes out there in an upcoming post, so please join us in making one and sharing it with us. If you’ve never made one before, this tutorial will get you there in no time.

Aldrin Gersalia is a master at this kind of editing treatment. He’s a Pixlr superuser who participates a lot in the Pixlr on Flickr group. (He’s Prisbourne on Flickr). We asked him to make one for us so we can see exactly how he makes it. To make it even easier for you to make one yourself, we also asked him to record his workflow, which we turned into a video:

Want to make your own? There are lots of variations on this technique, but this is the way to create the strongest space silhouette. Here’s how to do it step-by-step using Pixlr Express for the web:

Step 1: Edit your photo.

Autofix. Sharpen. Bump up the contrast. These are a few things you might do with a photo that has a strong silhouette. For this technique, do the kind of editing you would normally do, but don’t be afraid to do it in a bold way. Of course, you will want to start with a photo that is either a silhouette or perhaps even one that is underexposed a bit. One with a big sky will work best.

Step 2: Add Color & Texture

You want to lay down the color that will sit underneath your spacey sky. Some of the Bokeh effects have some strong colors, but you can also change the hue of your image or apply one of the color correction filters. Anything to put some serious color and maybe even texture in that sky. After you do that, use the History Brush to remove the effect you added in the area where your main subject sits. This technique is all about layering in effects, and the History Brush will let you remove any effect you’ve added in specific locations.

Step 3: Add a Space Overlay

Choose a space effect that you like. Some work best with light images, some work best with dark images. Use the randomizer to quickly cycle through space overlays until you find one that works. Rotate it if necessary to work with your subject. Once you’ve chosen one, use the History Brush to paint out the subject just as you did in the last step.

Step 4: Add a Second Space Overlay

Make it twice as nice by adding a second, different space overlay. This is one of the real secret’s to Aldrin’s technique. He makes the spacey sky extra strong by doubling down on the space effect. Paint out the subject with the History Brush.

Step 5: Tweaks

After this, you are essentially done, but you may want to try bumping up the saturation or vibrance or otherwise tweak the color in your sky to make it stand out even more. Or, add some vignetting or a border if you think that will complete the image.

Step 6: Show It to Us!

This is obviously an optional step, but it’s one we hope you’ll consider. We love these kinds of space silhouettes and want to put together a gallery of them if possible. But we need you to point us to them. Shoot us a tweet at @pixlr on Twitter or pop it into the Pixlr on Flickr group so we can collect our favorites for an upcoming post. 

A Quick Guide To Selective Coloring in Pixlr Editor

Pixlr Express has a Color Splash option that makes it easy to transform a photo into black and white with areas of color shining through, but you can do this in a more thorough and detailed way in Pixlr Editor. To distinguish between the two processes, we generally think of the more advanced Pixlr Editor process as one of “selective color” rather than “color splash.”  

Stacking layers and erasing one layer

The general idea is to double up your layers and then erase part of one layer so that the bottom layer shines through. First, open your image in Pixlr Editor. Then, duplicate the background layer, which you can do by right clicking on the layer itself in your Layers toolbar. Or, look for the Duplicate layer option in the Layers top menu. 

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Next, simply use the Desaturate option in the Adjustments menu to turn your top (duplicate) layer into a black and white image. 

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Now, you’re going to simply use the Eraser tool to erase the areas that you want to show up as color. You’ll be erasing the top (duplicate) layer in specific areas with the Eraser, and the Eraser works as a brush. So, choose the best brush tool for the job. If you need to do detail work, consider using a soft brush and increase the hardness. You can also create your own brush if you want.  

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This image has a fairly clear area we want to color, but if you are working on a more detailed area, try starting with a large brush and working your way to a smaller brush to work on the edging. 

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That’s it. It’s quite easy once you know how it works. Basically, you create a color and black-and-white layer, stack the black-and-white layer on top, and erase the areas where you want color to shine through. Easy! 

Make a More Gritty, More Intense Portrait with Pixlr Editor

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We love grungy street photography, but we don’t always know how to get that look out of just a camera. Here’s a little secret: You usually can’t. Many of the gritty, urban street photos you see have some post-processing work done on them. We don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, we’re going to show you how to add a little gritty intensity to your portraits using Pixlr Editor. 

First, of course, you’ll need a portrait. If your portraits subject looks a little menacing to begin with — even better. Ours certainly does: 

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Open your image in Pixlr Editor. You’re going to want to duplicate your background layer. You can do this from the Adjustments menu, or just right click on the layer in the Layers toolbar and choose Duplicate layer. Next, we want to knock out the color in this layer. Choose Adjustments > Desaturate and you’ll see that this will turn your layer into black and white: 

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Next, we’re going to blend these two layers together. This will add intensity to the photo’s details, but the key to getting this right is controlling the intensity. For our image, we want to dial back the opacity of the added layer to about 80%. Then, we’re going to use one of the layer blending modes to give this layer some additional lighting treatment. You’ll see that you have a number of blending modes to choose from, so try them out to see how each works. We’re using Hardlight, which is what we suggest you start with. This blend mode works great with our black and white layer and gives it a deeper tone. 

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Those are the basics for blending two layers together. As you experiment with these blend modes, you’ll see that you can get some quite good and subtle effects. But what if you want to keep going and not be so subtle? You certainly can. 

Going further

We wanted our image to be a little lighter in the face and darker at the edges. We changed the exposure from the Exposure option in Adjustments menu to lighten up the bright areas. 

One thing that we add that helps our street portrait look dark and gritty is to use a vignette effect to darken the edges of the photo and put the spotlight on this man’s face. We choose Filter > Vignette and set it at 50%. This made our outside edges darker. 

Finally, we aren’t satisfied with how grungy this guy is. More, please! We add a little “noise.” You’ll find the Noise option in the Filter menu. If you ever used to shoot with high speed film, you’ll notice that this noise effect can give you that kind of grainy look that really works great for street scenes. 

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The end result is a pretty grim looking guy, but we like to think he’s a total softie on the inside. Probably just needs a good hug. 


Pixlr Recipe: Butterfly Skies

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There are a bunch of really fun overlays in Pixlr Express, and one of our favorites is the Butterfly overlay. It’s located in the Bokeh effects pack, and today we’re going to show you how to use it to create a recipe we like to call “Butterfly Skies.” It’s a fantastical effect that works great for both portraits and landscapes to give the sky a magical effect. We’re using the web version of Pixlr Express, but you can do all of this in the mobile versions just as easily. 

Of course, you’ll want to start with a photo that is either all about the sky or where the sky is an important element. We’re starting with this absolutely beautiful photo of a kid and some balloons practically being blown away on a windy day.

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This is a stock photo, but we sure wish we would’ve taken this photo because it’s quite good. If you don’t have any great photos of the sky and want a good photo to try this technique out, go find one on Morguefile or Freestockphotos.biz or some other free stock site. 

Step one: basic editing

You always want to do basic editing to get your lights and darks balanced. When using a lot of overlays or layering on a bunch of effects, one thing to consider is that adding a lot of overlays may ultimately darken your photo, so you may want to make sure it’s sufficiently light at the outset. Or you might even want to sharpen the image if you think it might be muddied by layering on tons of stuff. For this photo, all we did was bump up the saturation a bit. We want this to be a very colorful image.

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Step two: Butterfly

Next, apply the Butterfly overlay. Notice that the overlays have a few additional options. Try rotating the overlay or flipping it to get the butterflies to work with other elements of the image. We applied this at 89% because we really want these butterflies to stand out. You’ll notice that the Butterfly overlay is really a non-color overlay, but you’ll quickly see how we can make this white butterfly sky way more colorful.

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Step three: History Brush

This is an important step if you want your image to really pop. We use the History Brush (located in the Adjustments menu) to paint away the butterfly overlay that we just added in some spots. We do this only on the boy and the balloons and the grass, which is going to make the butterfly effect really only affect the sky. Notice in the photo below how the butterflies stop at the balloons. Get to know the History Brush in this way because it can really help you make richer, more illustrative edits.

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Step four: Dreamscape

Next, we want to add some kaleidoscopic color. We use another effect from the Bokeh set, the one called Dreamscape. We set this at about 75%, but you can go full-on 100% if you like it. 

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Again, we use the History Brush to remove the effect on the boy, balloons, and grass. We want those balloons to really stand out in all their original beauty.

Step five: finishing touches

For our finishing touches, we sharpened the image a bit and bumped up the vibrance. And, we slapped a border on it. We chose the simple, classy border from the Default set called “Clean.” How you finish your image is up to you, but one good option at this point are the Color Correction overlays. If you want your butterfly sky to be a little more pink or a touch more blue, those options will help get you there.

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As you can see, adding a few bokeh overlays completely lifts up this photo and makes it something more magical. While we bumped the effects up significantly to make our Bokeh Butterfly Dreamscape sky look completely out of this world, these overlays can be dialed down to provide just hints of bubbly texture if you like. 

If you follow this recipe, let us know! Point us to it with a tweet: We’re @pixlr on Twitter

Video Tutorial with Cindy Patrick Shows You How to Turn Photos into Fine Art

There’s a sweet spot between art and photography that we often seek out. We love to see people take their phones and tablets and create art out of photographs that might otherwise seem ho-hum or normal. That’s the promise of editing, and some people are quite good at it. In fact, some people can turn casually snapped photos into art that’s worthy of hanging on a wall.

Some people call this iPhoneographic art, but whatever you call it you will probably agree that making beautiful art from a phone you carry in your pocket is completely awesome and shows how great it is to live in this day and age. But can you, yourself, do it? Heck yeah you can. We’re going to show you how to make things like this: 

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We asked Cindy Patrick, a Philadelphia-based photographer who makes quite stunning art with apps like ours to show us how she does it. She uses lots of different apps but has developed a pretty streamlined process for creating what look like canvas paintings of seaside tableaux. We wanted to capture her process, and we thought the best way to do that would be to simply have her record her workflow so we can break down the process into easy-to-follow steps that Pixlr users can perform to make their own wall-worthy art. 

We put together a video for you to watch, and we’ve included the steps here in this post so you can follow along. This is an excellent way to create a portrait of a loved one or a landscape that deserves to be immortalized as a painting — but without having to learn how to draw and paint from scratch.

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Cindy’s goal with many of her images is to make the original photographic image look more like a painting. She also loves color, so she usually find ways to enhance or alter the existing color of the captured image. Here is her process for this image of a surfer:

Step 1: Basic Editing

She firsts opens her image in Iris Photo Suite and applies the “DynaRange” filter, which brightens the highlights and shadows, and “lifts” the image overall. This is very often the first step in her processing workflow. If you don’t have that app, some basic photo editing in Pixlr Express will get you there. The goal is to balance your lights and darks, and even something as simple as using auto-fix will probably get you there. After applying the filter, she saves the image to her camera roll.

Step 2: Stylize

Next, Cindy opens the image created in Step 1 in Pixlr Express. First, she crops the borders. She generally doesn’t like borders on her images, and she tends to crop them as a rule. But for this image, she knows she wants to add a stylized border later, so she eliminates it at this stage. She saves this cropped version of the image to her camera roll.

While still in Pixlr Express, she applies the “Dapple” filter (Stylize > Dapple). This gives her a nice painterly version of her photo. She saves this version to her camera roll and exits Pixlr.

Step 3: Blending

Next, she opens the Superimpose app and opens the cropped “DynaRange” version of the image (from Step 2) which automatically becomes her background image. She then opens the “Dapple” version as the foreground image (from Step 3) and blends the two images together using the “Darken” blend mode. This gives her a painterly version of the image but with a little bit of the realism brought back in. She backs off on the opacity a bit, and then saves that version to her camera roll.

If you don’t have Superimpose, you can experiment with the add-an-image feature in Pixlr Express and perform a similar task. Or, if you’re happy with how stylized your image is and don’t want to dial it back with realism, you can simply skip this step. It’s up to you to decide how realistic/painterly you want your image to become.

Step 4: Blur

Next, she opens the new version of the image (from Step 4) in the Blur FX app. She sets the blur mode to median blur and turns on the mask feature so she can see her image beneath. She proceeds to erase the blur from the figure of the surfer. After erasing the blur, she continues to refine the edges and clean up the selection. Before saving, she backs off on the blur a bit by moving the slider to the left and bringing some of the original image back in. She saves this image to her camera roll.

If you don’t have Blur FX, try the blur option in Pixlr Express and then erase the parts you don’t want to be blurry using the History Brush. The History Brush is probably one of the most overlooked but most useful tools in Pixlr Express. You can use it to layer on intense effects and then “paint out” the details in your image (like the surfer figure in Cindy’s image).

Step 5: Color, Texture

Next, she opens this new blurred version of the image in Pixlr Express. She knows she wants to adjust the color a bit, so she adds a filter by selecting “Effect” and then “Vintage and “Borg.” This gives her an overall turquoise color that she loves.

Next, she applies a texture by selecting “Overlay,” “Canvas,” and “Sand.” She then selects the History Brush (adjustment > history) and erases the sand texture from the figure of the surfer. Sand is a superb choice of overlay based on her painting, but you might simply want to choose the Canvas overlay if you’re goal is to make it look like a canvas painting. You can control the opacity and dial back the effect if you’re looking for something more subtle. Experiment!

Step 6: Finishing Touches

Next, she selects Borders > Default > Grunge and applies the border of choice to her image. She saves and exits the Pixlr app.

Finally, Cindy like to add some drips and drops of paint, which she does in an app called Repix. 

That’s it. That’s Cindy’s entire process for making art. You can skip some of these steps or do them all exactly like she does, but whatever you do keep experimenting. 

Do you make art like this? Please let us know. We’re on the lookout for art like this, and you can reach us on Twitter: @pixlr

Pixlr Recipe: Space Silhouettes

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Of the many options in Pixlr Express that let you add all kinds of neat effects to your photos, the space overlays are some of the most popular. You can lay on the cosmic feeling thick or dial it down to give just a hint of stars and constellations. One of our favorite ways to use the space overlays are in conjunction with a silhouette or near silhouette to make what looks like a work of art. It’s easy to do, and we’re going to show you how to whip this up in Pixlr Express.

Step 1: Take a good silhouette photo

You can do this by taking a photo of something that’s strongly backlit. If you use a camera, you can play with your exposure settings. If you’re using an iPhone, you can press on one area of the screen, and your iPhone will set the exposure based on where you placed your finger. Hold down for two seconds, and the exposure will lock. Very useful. Other devices may have similar options, but the basic rule here: The more of a contrast you can get between your whitest white and your blackest black, the better. We started with a photo we took at a wedding on the beach of a wedding-goer watching the sun set.

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Step 2: Edit the contrast, hue, vibrance, saturation

If you don’t have a strong silhouette, you may want to bump up the contrast of your photo with the contrast tool. We did 100%. Your photo inevitably has some color in it, and you might want to play with this color. For example, you’ll probably want to bump up the vibrance and saturation. We definitely recommend that. Then, you might even want to change the hue to give this photo an even more otherworldly look. A purple sky looks pretty cool, so consider changing the hue.

Another thing to think about here is what’s in the background of your image. If the white or positive space is just plain white, some texture will make your space effects stand out better. Consider adding a bokeh effect. These work great in conjunction with space overlays, and you can control the amount of bokeh by dialing it down if you only want to suggest these lens-flare-like effects. Here, we chose a strong bokeh effect, “citrus.”

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Step 3: Add your space effects

Then, start adding your space overlays. There are 40 different space overlays in the app, with a balance of light and dark options that will work better with different types of backgrounds. You can add multiple space overlays, although too many may darken your image too much. Not sure which space overlays are the best for your image? Use the randomizer. It will quickly cycle through the options and save you time. Some of the “stars” won’t show up in your black zone with some of the overlays, some will. Experiment to get the ones you like. Also, you can rotate the overlays and control the intensity, which is very handy in placing constellations of stars in the perfect location. We added three or four in different intensity, including “Ascella” and the very pretty “Enif” overlay.

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Finish with a good frame or texture

Those are the basics of space silhouettes, but we like to finish up with a canvas effect to make our image look even more like a work of art. Some of our favorite canvas effects are “weave” and “paper.” We added a 31% weave overlay, lightened the image a tiny bit, and then topped it off with a black-and-white border that works well with the silhouette of the image.

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Need some inspiration? Aldrin Gersalia from the Pixlr on Flickr group is one of our favorite people, and he makes some of the most impressive space silhouettes we’ve ever seen. We like his stuff so much we asked him if we could use one of these beauties for a Pixlr event at the Shanghai Library. These types of solid-color images look great blown up as posters.

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We made a few extra before-and-after shots to show you how easy this is. One started out as a black-and-white photo of a caricaturist from the same wedding we went to, the other started out as a simple and colorful bird-out-on-a-limb silhouette before we blasted it into space. 

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Make Your Own Valentine’s Day Card Courtesy of the Pepper Design Blog

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We stumbled on the Pepper Design Blog last year and ended up subscribing by email because Morgan always has something interesting to share. She made a few photo overlays for Christmas that were ready-made for Pixlr Editor, and this time around she has two for Valentine’s Day. These downloadable overlays are quite large, making them suitable for printing and making it easy for you to resize to fit your photo.  

It’s an easy process. Just copy one of Morgan’s overlays into a landscape photo in Pixlr Editor. Use the free transform option in the Edit menu to resize that layer (remember to always hold down the shift key to keep your photo’s proportions as you resize), and voila — instant Valentine’s Day card. Add some text to personalize it with a special message. It’s incredibly easy and quite good-looking. We made one to show you how it’s done: 

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Check out Morgan’s post, and dig down into further instructions from her holiday overlays if you need a step-by-step tutorial. Great job, Morgan! 

Create a Circular Avatar with Pixlr Editor

The winds of Internet design have been changing when it comes to avatars: They are increasingly becoming circular.

A number of major social networks have adopted rounded profile pictures, which has spurred this trend on further. The main reason behind it seems to be HTML5. With HTML5, web app developers have a lot more flexibility with how they treat images, and making circular avatars seems to be a “because they now can” option. It’s become quite trendy.

If you love circular avatars but your favorite social site doesn’t offer them, you can create one with Pixlr Editor. Using a simple layer mask to surround your photo with a circular “border,” you can quickly and easily create the effect of a round image. If you’ve never used layer masks before, this is an excellent introduction.

Step 1: Prepare your canvas

I like to start by getting my layers all set up so I can work in an organized way. With the image you want to “circularize” open in Pixlr Editor, unlock the background layer and create a second layer — a new background layer that you will place underneath the layer containing your image. Paint the background of the new background layer white if you want a white background. Leave it transparent if you prefer a transparent background. I painted mine white. 

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Step 2: Draw your circle

You’re going to draw a circle on your profile image layer. Choose the Marquee tool and select the circular option in additional tools. Note that if you select the constraint for “Aspect ratio” and set that to 1:1 the circle you draw will be completely round. Simply choose a starting point in the upper-left hand of your image and draw the circle. You’ll see it outlined as a selection with dotted lines.

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Step 3: Add your layer mask

The area you drew and that is selected is ready to be turned into a layer mask. Choose “Add layer mask” from the Layer menu. You’ll notice that your Layers toolbar now has a green circle on your profile picture layer. You’ll also notice that everything on that layer except the area of the circle you drew has disappeared. You can do a lot with masks like this to cut out or reveal parts of a layer.

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Step 4: Clean up your image

You may need to resize your profile picture, and you can do that by choosing “Free transform” from the Edit menu while you have that layer selected. Free transform lets you drag the corners of the layer to resize it (hold down the Shift key to resize the layer with a constrained 1:1 proportion). Once you have your profile picture framed in the circle the way you want it, you might want to crop the entire image so that it’s square. Most social network services will upload a square image, so you might as well make it square now. I added a green background to show you how you can color the background if you want. 

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And that’s it. It’s quite easy to make an avatar like this and worth learning if you want to develop your layer masking skills further.

Need more help? Try this template 

Layer masks can be tricky, so I’ve created a .pxd template to help out if you’re having a hard time getting started. You can download it here. You might want to save a copy of that template to your Pixlr Library so you’ll always have a quick way to make circular avatars.

Soft portrait effects, too

You can use this masking technique to put an oval background around a portrait, too. You might want to choose a 2:3 aspect ratio or something similar to give it the right oval look. You also might want to turn up the feathering to get a very soft transition from the photo to a white background. This is a look that you might see in a glamour shot or school photo. Note the feathering setting I’ve chosen: 

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Make an Artistic Double Exposure Silhouette with Pixlr Editor

Today, we’re going to show you how to make a double exposure silhouette using Pixlr Editor. We’ll start with the basics of the technique and then give you some more advanced tips and tricks. 

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Double exposure photos are cool. In the days of 35-mm film, these magical-looking images were one of the neatest tricks a photographer could pull off. It wasn’t easy, though. It took a lot of forethought and planning and trial and error in the darkroom to get these otherworldly, surreal photos to line up to perfection. 

These days it’s relatively easy to create a double exposure image. But it still takes some skill and a bit of an artistic eye to create a superior one. Luckily, all of us have an artistic eye. We just have to focus it and spend a little time on our work. Double luckily: We all have access to free tools like Pixlr Editor. 

Step 1: Start with a silhouette

Just because you can place two images together doesn’t mean they’ll look awesome as a double exposure. In general, you’ll see the most success if your “main photo” is a full silhouette, a near silhouette, or an underexposed portrait. You can go digging one up on the Internet or you can take a portrait you may already have and underexpose it or darken it in various ways. Open your silhouette image in Pixlr Editor. This will be your main image. 

Step 2: Add a secondary image 

Open your secondary image in Pixlr Editor. (You may want to resize it so it is about the same size as the main image.) Choose “Select all” and then “Copy” from the Edit menu. Paste this secondary image into the main image. You now have one canvas with two layers. Unlock the background layer by double clicking on the lock icon. You will need to be able to edit and/or move around both layers during this process. 

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Tip: For your secondary image, a nature-oriented photo or one with a pattern should work well. Some great images to try include trees or tree limbs, flowers or foliage, cityscapes, and cloudy skies. 

Step 3: Adjust layer settings of secondary image

Select the nature-oriented layer and play around with the layer settings. You have a lot of choices here, but the two best bets for this technique are the “Screen” and “Lighten” blending modes. Experiment with these until you find one that works best. If your images are incredibly compatible, you might only need to adjust the opacity of your images and not even bother with the layer settings. But chances are adjusting these layer settings are going to give you the best results. 

Tip: Your silhouette photo doesn’t need a blending mode like screen or lighten. It’s your “base” for this exercise, so leave it underneath your nature-oriented photo with a “Normal” layer setting. You can alter it in other ways, but it probably won’t need a different layer setting.

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Step 4: Make any additional adjustments 

The real skill here is in being patient and open to experimentation. You might want to adjust the opacity of your main layer. Bumping up the contrast of a layer (Adjustment > Brightness & Contrast) can make a difference. Turn down the saturation of a layer completely if you want to see how a layer looks in black and white (Adjustment > Hue & Saturation). Once you’re done, collapse all of your layers into one (Layer > Flatten image) and take a look. You may find that adjusting the contrast and lightness one more time may be the winning detail. Here’s what my final product looks like: 

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Getting advanced with this technique

Once you have that basic technique mastered, you’ll want to dig in and try a few other things. Here are some examples of silhouette double exposures I created and what I did to make them different. 

MOVE THINGS AROUND

You’re really getting creative here, so don’t be bound by 90-degree angles. Use the “Free Transform” tool in the Edit menu to rotate or resize one of the images. Try rotating one of the layers and see if you can get a neat effect. Move the layers around until you start to see details line up or play off each other. I wasn’t getting any exciting effects with this double exposure image of a guy walking in harsh light and a field of wildflowers until I rotated the secondary image of wildflowers into a full upside-down position. Now, it’s much more intriguing: 

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COLOR VS. BLACK AND WHITE 

The effect works best when the light and dark areas of each of your photos play off each other, which is why black and white photos work great. Try it with your silhouette as a black-and-white photo and with your secondary photo in full color. It might look cooler that way. Or, just knock out all the color by lowering the saturation of each layer. Or, do like I did here and use two images that have similar colors. I saturated the heck out of the main layer to make this blue sky crazy blue: 

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IMPARTING MEANING 

People will probably look for meaning in your double exposure. So consider your image choices carefully. You’re combining/juxtaposing two images and forcing some sort of relationship onto the resulting photo. It may make sense to take a photo of a glacier and contrast it with an image of burning fire. Or, as I did here, take a picture of a beautiful woman and combine it with a photo of a beautiful Roman goddess to play off of likeness. It’s technically not a silhouette, but it’s an example of how nearly any two photos can be combined as a double exposure.  

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Of course, not every work of art needs to have meaning attached to it. Looking interesting is usually good enough, and you can make some very interesting double exposure silhouettes using Pixlr Editor.

It’s much easier than you might think, so give it a go and share what you make with us on Twitter or in our Pixlr on Flickr group. We’re always excited to see what people are making with Pixlr apps. 

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— Eric Suesz, Pixlr community manager

Cutting Things Out in a Precise Way with the Lasso Tool

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Last week, we gave you some tips for Cutting Things Out the Easy Way Using the Magic Wand. This week, we’re going to show you the more advanced way.

If your image has a complex background and you are hoping to cut out a particular element of the image, you’ll want to use the Lasso tool. With this tool, you’ll be tracing around the object you want to cut out manually. A great example of this type of use is cutting out a person completely from an image and pasting their likeness into an entirely different image. This is very doable, but it requires some skill and effort. You’re going to need to take your time the first few times you tackle this process, but once you get the hang of it, it should become second nature. 

Two lasso tool options

The *freehand* lasso tool can be used to draw around an area with your mouse. It can be difficult to do this with precision using a mouse. It’s much easier to do if you’re using a pen-and-tablet device (although of course most people do not use those). You may instead want to use the *polygonal* lasso tool. With the polygonal tool, click and click again and keep laying down straight lines, with Pixlr connecting your points along the way. In this way, you’ll be able to have finer control over what you’re cutting out. Your ultimate goal is to draw a point-by-point area that closes in on itself at the end — you end up where you started and have your area selected. 

Make a mistake? You can add to your path by holding down the Shift key. You’ll see a small plus sign near your cursor, which means you can add to the selection with a few clicks. At this point, you can even switch to the freehand tool to carefully add to your selection. Place your pointer somewhere inside your selection and draw outside of the selection to choose the areas you want to add, ending your dragging back inside your selection at your starting point. You’ll see that your selection has expanded to include the area you drew. This is great for capturing detail that may have been hard to capture with your first pass. You may even want to zoom in to do this kind of detail work. 

Similarly, you can remove part of your path by holding down the Alt or Option key. You’ll see a minus sign, and you can remove areas in much the same way by drawing inside and outside of the selection area. Again, I recommend using the freehand tool to do this kind of work. And again, draw your path and end up where you started, and you’ll see that area has now been removed from the selection area. 

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Step by step with the polygonal lasso tool 

  1. Select the lasso tool from the toolbar. Check your tool options and make sure you have selected the polygonal lasso tool if that is what you are planning to use. 
  2. Click on a starting point in your image. Move your mouse along the path that you want to draw. Keep clicking as you go to keep laying down the path, drawing your way carefully around the object you will be cutting out.
  3. Once you have drawn around the area you want to cut out and reach your starting point, click on that starting point. Pixlr will outline the area you’ve selected with flashing dotted lines.  
  4. Copy your selection. At this point, you may want to paste your selection into a blank canvas or into another image that you have waiting. Alternately, you can “invert selection” which will choose the area around your path. In this way, you can cut out the background if you choose.  

An example to get you started

As a simple demonstration, let’s cut out this girl walking through the grass at an outdoor wedding and transport her to a wide open road. 

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I start by choosing the polygonal lasso tool and then work deliberately from point to point, starting at the base of her shoe. I draw up the left side and back down around to the shoe again. 

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Once I’m back where I started, I see that the area is selected, at which point I copy it to my clipboard.

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Here I’ve also pasted it into a new document to show you what that looks like. 

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But my real goal is to add her to this file of a deserted highway, so I open up that image and paste the selection in. 

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I bumped up the contrast of her layer and used the burn tool to add a little bit of shadow in there after pasting her in. I could do more to clean this up and make it look a little more professional, but it’s fine for my purposes. You may want to more clean-up with your projects, but as always it depends on your goals and level of skill with some of the more advanced tools. 

A few extra tips 

  • Feathering: If you want the “cuts” you’re making to have a very hard outline, turn feathering off completely. If you want a soft, gradual edge, increase the feathering amount. The more you increase the feathering, the more blurred your edges will be. If  you’re using very high feathering, your cut-out may take on a “halo” like appearance. 
  • Anti-alias: Choosing the anti-alias option will smooth the jagged edges of your cut-out. Think of anti-aliasing as a piece of fine sandpaper that smooths out the pixels where you’re cutting. 
  • Invert selection: If you’ve drawn a path around your object but want to delete everything outside of your closed path, use the “invert selection” command in the Edit menu to choose the area outside. 
  • Check your contrast: Once the image you’ve cut out has no background around it, it can sometimes look less vibrant. Try increasing the contrast and see how it looks. 

Cutting Things Out the Easy Way Using the Magic Wand

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How do you cut things out? That’s one of the most-asked questions on our support forum. 

Cutting out an image can be very easy or a bit challenging. A lot depends on the background of your photo and how complex the image is. Today, we’re going to show you the simple way; later this week, we’ll show you the advanced way. 

The easy way: the magic wand

The magic wand is magically effective when your background is simple in nature. If the background is one color or monotone or without a lot of complex shading or tones, or if the area you want to cut out has a strong outline that sets it apart from the background (e.g., a logo), you can simply use the magic wand and click on the area you want to copy or the area you want to cut. Once you do that, you’ll see the respective area outlined with a flashing dotted line. 

Step-by-step: how to use the magic wand 

You’ve got nothing to lose and an undo button with you at all times. So, get going and make it happen:

  1. Select the magic wand tool from the toolbar. 
  2. Click on an area you want to sample. The magic wand will outline the area selected with flashing dotted lines.  
  3. Hold down the shift key to add more areas to your selection (if needed).
  4. Hit the delete key or choose Cut from the Edit menu to delete selected areas. 

Two examples to get you started

The easiest images to alter are ones like this illustration of the Instructables robot, which is basically a collection of flat colors with very clear outlines. I started by opening a blank, transparent canvas and pasting the Instructables robot into it as a layer. One click with the magic wand, and I’ve selected the entire area outside of the robot. The area selected is outlined with flashing pixels.

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If I choose to cut the area out with a simple “Cut” command, I have the robot all by itself. I could then copy and paste into another image if that’s my goal. 

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Using the magic wand with shaded backgrounds

Similarly, real-world images like this one that have a relatively simple composition with straightforward shading can be easily cut out. I start with one click of the magic wand: 

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I clicked the sky area outside the monument a few times more while holding down the shift key and was able to select all of the area *outside* of the monument. Initially, the magic wand only picked up some of that sky, but multiple clicks pretty easily got me to the point where I had selected all of it — and isolated the monument. 

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I chose to cut the area I had selected — the area outside the monument — out of the image. Viola. I’ve cut out the monument and isolated it. 

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A note about transparency 

For this second example, I didn’t use a transparent background. If your goal is to cut out an area so that you have a transparent background behind it, remember that you will want to paste your image into a transparent canvas as a new layer *before* you start cutting anything out. 

Adjusting the magic wand 

What the magic wand is doing is looking at the overall photo and choosing pixels that are similar to the one you’re clicking on. Adjust the tolerance up to make the magic wand select pixels that are even more like the one you’re clicking on. Adjust tolerance down to make your magic wand pickier about choosing the area you want to cut out. Once you begin using the magic wand, you may decide you need to combine additional flashing outline areas to your overall selection. As I did, hold down the shift key as you click to add more areas (pixels) to your selection. 

Next time… the advanced way to cut things out

If your image is more complex, the magic wand may not be the tool you want to use. For example, if you want to cut a person out of a photo in a very precise way, you will probably want to use the Lasso tool for more precision in your work. We’ll cover that next week right here on our blog. 

How to Make an Illustrated Portrait With the History Brush

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Since Pixlr Express added the History Brush to mobile apps, I’ve been experimenting with it in different ways. Pixlr Express for the web has had this capability for a long time, but having it added to the phone versions encouraged me to pick it up again on the web version and try some new things. 

What I can’t stop making with the History Brush, and which you might enjoy trying out, are what I’m calling “illustrated” portraits. You start with a well-composed photograph of a friend or loved one and, by using various overlays in combination with the history brush, you end up with a portrait that places your subject in the foreground with an illustrative background — almost like a comic book in some ways. You’re basically creating a very rich, textured background while leaving your subject in real-world focus.

Give this a shot. You might find that what you end up creating is artwork worthy of being printed on canvas and hung on the wall. Come to think of it, it’s probably one of the best gifts you could give someone: an artistic portrait that’s handmade and extremely creative.  

Step 1: Start with a great photo

You’ll want a photo that is well-composed, that really features your subject, preferably one that shows most of their body. A picture of four family members standing in front of the Eiffel Tower simply won’t do. This technique works best with solo subjects, but you can find creative ways to include more than one person or even make a portrait of an object. 

Step 2: Pick your overlays and effects

Open your image in Pixlr Express and do any normal photo editing you would do like auto-adjust or color correction. Then, think about the overlays you want to use. You may want to try a bunch out (use that undo button!) until you find the two or three that really work with the photo you’re using. The point here: You’re going to work in a step-by-step fashion, so it’s probably best to know which filters you want to use ahead of time and then work in a very deliberate way. 

Step 3: Add an effect and brush out your subject

Start by laying down an effect and then use the history brush to brush the effect out of the area of your subject. If you plan on printing this later in a large format or even printing it on canvas (which is my plan), you may want to be more meticulous with the brush. Then again, a little sloppiness with the history brush will increase the “comic book” illustrative look, so be sloppy if that is the effect you want to achieve. 

Step 4: Repeat step 3 until you’re satisfied

Each time you add an effect, you’ll want to use the history brush to restore your subject itself to their real-life look. As you add more texture or color or overlays or whatever you’ll start to see that your subject really does start to stand out in a dramatic way the more effects you add. But you can definitely go overboard with this technique. If you want your subject to look like they are a real-life person walking through a Van Gogh painting, you can probably achieve that, but I’ve found that subtle effects are often better. Try choosing effects that complement the personality of the person you’re spotlighting. 

Example: Crafty spots 

Here’s an example of one I created for an Instructables community member who makes very pretty, very crafty things. I made everything in the background look like it’s covered in dots:

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Some effects used: The “Sunflower” overlay located in the Paper set + plenty of saturation, vibrance, and color tweaks. 

Example: Cyborg warrior

You can use the history brush with all kinds of adjustments — not just overlays. For example, you can oversaturate your photo dramatically and then paint your subject back without the saturated color. 

Here is one that I made for an Instructables superstar who builds dramatic science-fiction worthy things out of discarded materials like working robot arms. He deserves a lot of effects: 

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Some effects used: The “Weave” overlay from the Canvas set + focal blur + various light leaks and chemical burns + a space overlay + tons of color saturation. 

Example: Poster child

If your subject has other items they are interacting with that you can brush out, well that’s even better. See below how I have brushed out the Quickrete and other tools being used by this Instructables artist in residence. This is a great way to put an emphasis on someone doing something they love or interacting with items they love. 

When you’re nearing completion, you might want to let one effect work through your subject and not brush it out with the history brush — like the “Beam” Retro Poster effect I added here. It can add another layer of interestingness to your portrait.

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Some effects used: The “Stoned” overlay in the Grunge set + focal blur + a retro poster overlay that I didn’t brush out with the history brush.

Up for the challenge? 

If you try out this technique, please let us know how it went! Share your image to our Flickr group or shout to us at @pixlr on Twitter. We’d love to see what kind of artwork you can make using the history brush. 

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— Eric Suesz, Pixlr community manager

Using the History Brush to Create Layered Effects

If you’re a regular user of the web version of Pixlr Express, you may have used the history brush before. If you’re not, give it a look and see if it’s a tool you might want to use. The history brush can sometimes be misunderstood, so I wanted to offer a few pointers for those folks who may have seen it show up but who don’t know how it works.  

I think of the history brush as an undo brush. You always have an undo button to fully undo the last effect or border or overlay you’ve added, but what if you wanted to just remove part of an effect and not the whole thing? That’s where the history brush comes in. I’ll show you what I’m talking about from the web interface, and then I’ll show you what it looks like on an iPhone; they’re both essentially the same tool. 

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I have this very colorful photo of a boy looking through a kaleidoscope directly at the camera (look closely and you can see his eye through the kaleidoscope lens). I’m going to turn the entire photo into a sepia-toned image by applying one of the “too old” effects — the one called “Henry” — to the photo. 

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Then, I decided I wanted to undo part of the effect so the circle that represents the kaleidoscope will be in color — the look of the original photo. 

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I basically painted away part of the “Henry” effect using the history brush. I got a little sloppy while using it, so I used the eraser option of the history brush to bring back some of the color. I adjusted the size of the brush to get the finer points of erasing just right. 

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In this way, I was able to partially undo an effect I added. The end result looks great and achieves what I was going for — a photo with a flourish that hints that what the boy is seeing through the kaleidoscope is way different than what we see when we look at him. Let’s call him “The Boy with Kaleidoscope Eyes.” 

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There are lots of other uses for this like removing part of a border you’ve added, a detail from a sticker that you don’t like, or some of the stars from an outer space effect. 

It works essentially the same way on your phone or tablet. I’ll show you.

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Here I laid down a star pattern and then removed the stars from the area of the beer can itself with the history brush. Adding adding this mask of a sort makes the beer can stand out while giving a nice appropriate texture to the background.  

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Those are the essential things to know about the history brush. Try it out the next time you’re doing detailed editing on a photo with your phone or tablet. It can help you add just that little extra detail to your photos to make them a little more special. 

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— Eric Suesz, Pixlr community manager

Customize Your Facebook Profile Timeline with a Pixlr Template

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Why haven’t you customized your Facebook profile timeline image? If you haven’t, we’re about to make it incredibly easy.

We recently noticed a few people asking about the dimensions for modifying their Facebook profiles in our support forum. To make it easier for anyone who wants to create a truly unique timeline header, we’ve put together a simple, straightforward Pixlr template. This can be useful to help make sure the image you want to use fits the area exactly the way you want it to. Or, if you’re up for a little creativity, it can help you make an image that works in tandem with your avatar.

Download the .pxd file.

A few things to note:

  • If you’re not familiar with it, this file is a .pxd file. That’s Pixlr’s native file format. You can open this template in Pixlr and work with each of the separate layers. 
  • Facebook has changed these timeline profile image dimensions a few times; these dimensions are the most current as of the time of this writing. 
  • Once you’ve composed the image you want, hide or remove the avatar, overlays, thoughts, text layers, etc. Then, flatten your image. Your final product will be one simple image that is 851x315 pixels. We recommend saving it as a PNG or JPG when you’re done.

Are you up for this creative challenge? You can base yours on the silly one I created with a cloud thought bubble, but there are tons of incredibly wonderful examples out there to learn from. So get cracking. When you’re done, let us know. We’d love to see what you’ve made!

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— Eric Suesz, Pixlr community manager

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